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Canon P
Canon P with Canon 50mm F 1.4 Lens
Canon P with Canon 50mm F 1.4 Lens

Introduced in 1959 as a budget companion to Canon VI-L, Canon P proved to be a very successful camera. By the time the production ceased in 1961, 87875 bodies were made 1. The reasons for this success are not hard to figure out. The camera is simple and easy to use, yet elegant and very well made. It remains popular to this day and is considered by many to be among the best Leica Screw Mount rangefinders.

The camera fits perfectly into one's hands with the shutter release and the film advance lever located perfectly for easy use. The viewfinder shows three parallax-corrected framelines - 35mm, 50mm, and 100mm. It offers 1:1 magnification 2 with 43mm effective (and physical) rangefinder base length, but it is prone to flare. Canon P is also good for those who wear glasses because the eyepiece is smooth and won't scratch one's glasses. The downside is that with glasses the 35mm frameline is hard to see. I think that one of the features that makes this camera so elegant is the rewind crank. It folds into the camera body and is an example of functionality and simplicity. There is a film type reminder dial on the back door and a film advance indicator - in the form of a rotating red dot - behind the shutter release.

The shutter curtains are made of coated steel. They wrinkle easily, and today practically all Canon P bodies have some wrinkles in the shutter curtains. This is not a problem, and it will not affect the camera's function as long as the curtains don't have any holes and are not deeply creased.

Canon P with its meter and Canon 100mm F 2 Lens
Canon P with its meter and Canon 100mm F 2 Lens

There is a light shield just below the rangefinder cam. Many lenses that protrude deeply into the camera body like Avenon Super Wide 21mm F 2.8 would hit it and so they cannot be used on Canon P. Many collapsible lenses are also problematic. A collapsible Leica Summicron 50mm F 2 works fine, but it will scratch the shield slightly if it is mounted in the collapsed position. Therefore, it should be screwed in (and unscrewed) in its extended position. Once the lens is mounted, it can be collapsed without problems. But please keep in mind that camera bodies and lenses vary slightly, and so be careful when first using any collapsible or deeply protruding lens on this camera.

Black Canon P
Black Canon P with Canon 50mm F 1.4 Lens
Black Canon P with Canon 50mm F 1.4 Lens

As already mentioned, Canon P was made in large numbers, and so it is a relatively common camera. But almost all of the bodies were finished in chrome, and black Canon P cameras are very rare. I was told once that they are about five times less common than black Canon 7 bodies, and black Canon 7 is a rare camera itself.

Today one can also find chrome Canon P bodies that have been repainted black. It seems that these were not made with the intent to deceive. Rather, they were probably commissioned by photographers who wanted a Canon P in black but didn't want to pay the high price a real one sells for. The easiest way to distinguish a real black Canon P from a repainted one is by looking at the self-timer. The original black bodies have a small depression near the tip of the self-timer. This depression was painted white, but the white paint may be worn off today. Original black bodies also have black strap lugs. On repainted cameras these are almost always left chrome.

Canon P Cameras with Military Markings

A small number of Canon P bodies were made for the Japanese Self-Defense Forces. Those made for the Ground Self-Defense Forces have red cherry blossom engraved on the the top plate, while those made for the Maritime Self-Defense Forces are engraved with a black cherry blossom superimposed on an anchor. Cameras with either markings are rare and difficult to find.

Canon P with Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces Markings
Canon P with Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces Markings
Canon P with its meter, Canon 50mm F 2.2 Lens, and Canon Camera Holder L
Canon P with its meter, Canon 50mm F 2.2 Lens, and Canon Camera Holder L

Canon P shares with Canon VI-L and Canon VI-T a selenium meter that fits into the accessory shoe and couples with the shutter speed selection dial. There are two setting and two scales - white for normal light, and orange for low light. To allow incident light measurement, the light meter was fitted with a translucent diffuser that slides onto the front. To take reflected light readings, the diffuser needed to be taken off, and so today it's missing from most of these light meters. There is a screw on the bottom marked -0- - this is the zero adjustment screw.

When first sold, the light meter had fixed foot, and because it covers large portion of the top plate, the photographer had to take the meter off the camera in order to unfold the film rewind crank and to rewind the film. Later Canon solved this problem by allowing the foot of the light meter to rotate. This way the photographer needed only to uncouple the meter from the shutter speed selection dial, and then it could be rotated to expose the film rewind crank. Some of these selenium meters work to this day, but many don't. To accommodate the meter, the brown leather case for Canon P has a hump on the top.

Canon also sold camera holder for their rangefinders. The Canon P fits into Canon Camera Holder L. This holder has no fewer than four places where it can be attached to a tripod - two on the bottom, one on the side, and one on the back. The back also has bubble level. Today, this holder is surprisingly hard to find.


Produced Early December 1958 - Late May 1961 2
First Sold March 1959 2
Number Produced 87875 1
about 90500 2
Serial Number Range 700000 - 798000 1
Shutter Speeds X, B, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, 500, 1000 on a single, non-rotating shutter speed selection dial
Viewfinder Built-in rangefinder
35mm, 50mm, and 100mm parallax-corrected framelines displayed simultaneously
Magnification: 1:1 2
Effective rangefinder base length: 43mm
Flash Synchronization Provided for both FP and X (X synchronization speed is 1/55 s) 3
Dimensions Body only: 144mm x 76mm x 34mm
(The width of the top plate is 31mm; the 34mm measurement includes the width of the lens mount and of the eyepiece as these protrude slightly from the body.)
With Canon 50mm F 2.8 lens: 144mm x 76mm x 71mm 2
Original Price 52700 Yen (with Canon 50mm F 1.4) 3
37700 Yen (with Canon 50mm F 2.8) 3


1 Dechert, Peter. Canon Rangefinder Cameras 1933-68. Small Dole, West Sussex, U.K.: Hove Books Ltd, 1985.
2 Miyazaki, Youji. Canon Rangefinder Camera. Tokyo, Japan: Ginza Katsumido Shashinki-ten, 1996.
3 Canon Camera Museum, http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/camera/film/data/1956-1965/1959_p.html

Additional Images

Canon P with EP Markings
Canon P with EP markings denoting that the camera was sold at a military exchange post. The Canon 50mm F 1.8 lens also carries the EP mark.
Swiveling Light Meter
The later version of the light meter for Canon P could swivel on its foot to allow film rewinding while the meter is mounted. The lens mounted on the camera is Canon 50mm F 1.2.

Canon P and Canon 35mm F 2 Lens
Canon P and Canon 35mm F 2 lens make a nice compact combination.
Canon P Film Reminder Diials
Early Canon P cameras had white metal film speed reminder dial on the back. Later, the film speed reminder dial was finished in black with white, orange, and blue lettering. Today on many cameras the blue, and sometimes also the orange colour has faded with age.

Canon P Brown Leather Case
Canon P brown leather case had a hump on the top to accommodate the detachable light meter.
Canon P Instruction Manual
Canon P Instruction Manual

Canon P Box
Canon P Box
Canon P Meter from the Bottom
Canon P meter from the bottom. The screw towards the right side is the zero adjustment screw.

Early Canon P Film Advance Lever
The film advance lever on early Canon P bodies had a smooth tip. Soon after the production had begun Canon started fitting the cameras with film advance levers with serrated tips.
Early Canon P Front
This is a very early Canon P. There is a raised section around the round rangefinder window that has been eliminated quite early in the production period.

Canon P with Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces Markings
Canon P with Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces Markings

The camera in the picture also carried the same cherry blossom and anchor mark on the bottom plate and came with a matching light meter and S-42 hood. The 50mm F 1.8 lens was not marked though.

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